Mr. Speaker, in this House and across this country, we are privileged to be able to express ourselves freely and to live to our fullest potential as citizens of Canada. It is important, however, that we remain forever vigilant in our work to ensure that all Canadians enjoy the human rights which our citizenship rightly bestows.
I am reminded of a statement by Nobel prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, who said, “Please use your freedom to promote ours”. These are simple words, but they are invested with tremendous meaning and substance. Several of my colleagues have noted during these debates that this bill, dealing with equality and human rights protection for transgender and transsexual Canadians, lacks the benefit of first-hand experience. This is true. There are indeed no transgender or transsexual people currently serving as members of Parliament.
However, in keeping with the spirit of the words of Aung San Suu Kyi, we are given the unique opportunity and privilege to promote the freedom of others as outlined in the provisions of this bill. Human rights are precisely as the term states. What the bill is addressing is a right, not a privilege. Canadians are, by virtue of our democratic traditions and our commitment to equality, protected with respect to our most basic human rights and freedoms.
When contemplating the provisions of this bill, it can be reasonably surmised that what has been proposed should really not require debate. In essence, this bill ensures that transgender and transsexual Canadians are afforded protection under the law with respect to their basic human rights in a manner consistent with that which is enjoyed by every other Canadian. It is simply a reaffirmation that all Canadians share the same rights and opportunities, and that these require equal protection under the law.
Indeed, it is remarkable, if one were to think about it, that in this day and age we continue to find ourselves in a position of having to debate the need to include a specific group under the umbrella of human rights law as well as protection under the Criminal Code. One cannot help but reflect on similar debates over the past several hundred years, when people like those who are transgender or transsexual were the subjects of discriminatory practice and indeed victims of hate crimes.
Like parliamentarians of years past, we are called in our time to embrace and support the inclusion of transgender and transsexual Canadians in the most fundamental of our laws, those which protect the most basic human rights and which also offer protection from criminal acts of hate and discrimination.
In debates of this kind, we are often tempted to resort to statistical data to make our case. We may, at times, focus too much on these numbers. Indeed, several members have referred to statistics when speaking about the actual number of Canadians who are transgender or transsexual and living in Canada.
I believe that while it is important to reflect upon the statistics, we must also be vigilant when doing so. Human rights do not need to be measured in numbers simply because they are universal in character. As someone who has held a long and abiding commitment to human rights issues, I recognize that there is little currency to be found in debating numbers. The reality is simply this. All human beings, regardless of their numbers, are invested with basic human rights, freedoms and protection under the law, which are inalienable and non-negotiable.
I recognize that there are those who may argue about the need to amend our laws to specifically protect transgender and transsexual Canadians. The reality is that there is a clear and pressing requirement for such action. There is ample evidence, both statistically and anecdotal, that confirms that transgender and transsexual Canadians experience disproportionate discrimination and even violence based on who they are and how they choose to live their lives. This is unacceptable.
The bill we are debating today may not eliminate these realities, but it will most certainly offer greater protection to those who are victims of such discrimination and lead to that day when transgender and transsexual Canadians will enjoy the freedom and security that they so rightly deserve.
It is important to remember that positive action in matters such as this is our responsibility as parliamentarians. For example, it was not that long ago that gays and lesbians in this country faced similar challenges to those we are debating today. Fortunately, many of us in the House are too young to remember the more violent and reprehensible violations of human rights experienced by gays and lesbians in Canada, but they were indeed troubling and serious acts of injustice.
Mr. Speaker, 1965 is not really that long ago. Yet, in that year a Canadian gay man was declared a dangerous offender simply because of his sexual orientation and the belief that was presented to a Canadian court that he was likely to continue to be sexually active. This man was not released from prison until 1971.
I make note of this incident to highlight the need for us to be proactive in protecting human rights for transgender and transsexual Canadians. Following the imprisonment of this man, Bill C-167, an omnibus bill, was introduced in 1967 by the then justice minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, which decriminalized homosexuality and was the foundation upon which great strides were made for gays and lesbians in this country.
Indeed, under two more Liberal Prime Ministers, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, gays and lesbians were allowed to marry, which represented another enormous step forward for human rights in Canada. Today we are called to be bold and progressive and, indeed, as courageous as Pierre Trudeau or Prime Ministers Chrétien and Martin. Their courage demonstrated that it is incumbent upon parliamentarians to take proactive action to ensure that the human rights of all Canadians are fully protected.
Historically, it has taken too long to address all the challenges to human rights and freedoms that have materialized over the past many years. Many of them have been based on race, religion or sexual orientation, but all have experienced the day when as a society we determined that action had to be taken.
Today my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas is calling upon our fellow parliamentarians to do not only what is required of us but what should be expected. We have often heard that a true measure of a society is the manner in which it treats those within it that are most vulnerable to abuse or discrimination.
Clearly, as we have heard during the course of this debate, transgender and transsexual Canadians have more than their share of discrimination, violence and unacceptable alienation. Bill C-389 is not designed to confer on transgender and transsexual Canadians anything other than that which they are entitled.
We as Canadians and parliamentarians are being called by history and generations of Canadians yet to come to do that which is fair and just: ensure that all Canadians are treated equally and respectfully under the laws and traditions of our country. It is for this reason that I encourage all of my fellow members of the House to join with our colleague from Burnaby—Douglas and vote in favour of Bill C-389.